The question of free will remains a subject of controversy among mankind. Many are those who claim that we are endowed with free will while others have questioned whether we actually make our own choices. A new study inclines to the latter: it argues that free will is merely an illusion instigated by the brain.
Neuroscientists from Yale University claim free will is largely a trick of the brain. It would only apply to restricted instances, lasting for mere seconds.
This conclusion was drawn after the researchers found that split-second decisions preceding an action were only an illusion. This remains a hypothesis, though. They have not proven beyond doubt that free will does not exist.
“Perhaps in the very moments that we experience a choice, our minds are rewriting history, fooling us into thinking that this choice – that was actually completed after its consequences were subconsciously perceived – was a choice that we had made all along,” says one of the authors, Adam Bear, in a statement to Scientific American.
Their experiments included making participants observe 5 white circles in random places featured on a computer, whereby they had to quickly guess which one of them would turn red. They replied with “yes” or “no” to indicate whether they chose right, and in case they hadn’t had sufficient time to decide, they would make it known to the researchers. As per statistics, the affirmative replies should make up only 20% of all the times they answered. However, the reported replies amounted to over 30%.
Bear explains that this discrepancy is the result of an illusion: the participants thought they had made a choice before the colour changed, when this did not happen in reality; the colours changed fast enough such that the participants were not actually making a choice. This would mean that their brains were working faster than their processing, thereby creating the illusion that they had chosen.
On the other hand, when the colour change took more time such that the participants themselves had more time to decide, the percentage of “yes” answers decreased to nearly 20%. This means that when given sufficient time, they could actually consciously choose.
Does this small-sample, unsubstantiated study mean that we do not have free will? Not ever. Rather, the study has limitations: not only is the sample size too small, but the colour change observation is nothing compared to the choices we make everyday. So, no, it does not prove that we are devoid of free will.